At least four people were killed and many were wounded Sunday in a city in the southern Philippines that is mostly Muslim, when a huge explosion blasted through a Catholic Mass. Officials suspect the explosion was triggered by a bomb.
The explosion occurred in the middle of the morning Mass at Mindanao State University, a state-run campus in Marawi City. According to Taha Mandangan, the campus security chief, dozens of students and teachers were terrified and several were left injured and lying on the ground.
Mandangan reported that two of the injured were in a life-or-death situation.
Terrorism has been plainly perpetrated here. This is more than just a personal grudge. After a bomb goes off, everyone nearby will die,” Mandangan told The Associated Press over the phone.
According to Maj. Gen. Gabriel Viray III, the regional military commander, at least four individuals—three of whom were women—were killed in the explosion, and fifty others were sent to two hospitals for treatment of injuries that were generally minor.
Officials announced that only two bodies had been recovered.
Police and soldiers quickly cordoned off the area, launched an initial investigation, and reviewed security footage for clues as to the attackers’ identities. The city was ringed with security checkpoints.
As the Christmas season began, the nation prepared for travel, shopping frenzy, and traffic congestion; the fatal explosion triggered a security concern that extended beyond Marawi city.
In response to the suspected bomb attempt, the Philippine coast guard increased intelligence collection, inspected passenger ferries more thoroughly, and deployed bomb-sniffing dogs and sea marshals, according to the coast guard.
Despite this savage conduct, the highest standards of public service must be upheld, stated Coast Guard Chief Admiral Ronnie Gavan.
Government efforts to suppress Muslim and communist insurgencies are now being overseen by presidential adviser Carlito Galvez, a former military chief of staff. Galvez sharply criticized what he called a bombing event.
“This horrendous attack, which happened during a Mass … shows the ruthless methods that these lawless elements will utilize to sow fear, anger and animosity among our people,” Galvez said in a statement. “We will not allow this to happen.”
Although the identity of the bomber has not been revealed as yet, authorities have stated their intention to investigate the possibility of involvement from Muslim militants. These groups persist in the area despite years of military and police offensives.
The explosion near Datu Hoffer town in southern Maguindanao province was accompanied by the killing of 11 suspected Islamic militants. According to Brig. Gen. Allan Nobleza, the regional police director, investigators are currently trying to determine whether the explosion was caused by a homemade bomb or a grenade. The attack may or may not be related to the killings.
A member of Dawlah Islamiyah, an armed organization that has joined up with the Islamic State and maintains a foothold in the province of Lanao del Sur—where Marawi city is located—was among the militants killed, according to Nobleza.
The city, which is filled with mosques, was besieged for five months in 2017 by Islamic militants linked to the Islamic State group. The siege ended after more than 1,100 people were killed, the majority of them militants. The Philippine forces were aided by airstrikes and surveillance planes sent by the US and Australia.
There has been a separatist uprising in the southern Philippines for decades, and the region is home to the country’s Muslim minority. The Philippines is mainly a Roman Catholic nation.
Signed in 2014, a peace pact greatly reduced decades of bloodshed between the government and the largest armed insurgent group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
While the government launched offensives, several smaller armed groups continued bombings and other attacks, rejecting the peace deal.